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Pergamos had a place all its own in Asia. It was not on any of the great roads, as Ephesus and Smyrna were, but historically it was the greatest city in Asia. Strabo called it an illustrious (epiphanes) city and Pliny called it "by far the most famous city in Asia" (Ionge clarissimum Asiae). The reason was that, by the time John was writing Pergamos had been a capital city for almost four hundred years. Back in 282 BC it was made the capital of the Seleucid kingdom, one of the sections into which the empire of Alexander the Great was broken up. It remained the capital until 133 BC. In that year Attalus the Third died and before he died he willed his dominions into the possession of Rome. Out of the dominions of Attalus, Rome formed the province of Asia and Pergamos still remained its capital.


Its geographical position made Pergamos even more impressive. It was built on a tall conical hill, which dominated the valley of the River Caicus, from the top of which the Mediterranean could be seen, fifteen miles away.

Sir William Ramsay describes it: "Beyond all other cities in Asia Minor, it gives the traveler the impression of a royal city, the home of authority; the rocky hill on which it stands is so huge, and dominates the broad plain of the Caicus so proudly and so boldly."


So, history and honor gathered around Pergamos.


However, Pergamos could never achieve the commercial greatness of Ephesus or of Smyrna but it was a center of culture which surpassed both. It was famous for its library, which contained no fewer than 200.000 parchment rolls. It was second only to the unique library of Alexandria.


It is interesting to note that the word parchment is derived from Pergamos. In the ancient world parchment was pergamēnē charta, the Pergamene sheet; and to this name attaches a story. For many centuries ancient rolls were written on papyrus, a substance made of the pith of a very large bulrush that grows beside the Nile. The pith was extracted, cut into strips, pressed into sheets and smoothed. There emerged a substance not unlike brown paper, and this was universally used for writing. In the third century BC, a Pergamene king called Eumenes was very anxious to make the library of the city supreme. In order to do so he persuaded Aristophanes of Byzantium, the librarian at Alexandria, to agree to leave Alexandria and come to Pergamos. Ptolemy of Egypt, enraged at this seduction of his outstanding scholar, promptly imprisoned Aristophanes and by way of retaliation put an embargo on the export of papyrus to Pergamos. Faced with this situation, the scholars of Pergamos invented parchment or vellum, which is made of the skins of beasts, smoothed, and polished. In fact parchment is a much superior vehicle for writing and, although it did not do so for many centuries, it in the end ousted papyrus altogether as writing material.



2:12,13 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.



Pergamos was one of the great religious centers. In particular it had two famous shrines. In the letter of the Risen Christ Pergamos is said to be the place where "Satan's seat" is. Obviously this must refer to something which the Christian Church regarded as particularly evil. Some have found the reference explained in Pergamos's religious splendor.


Pergamos regarded itself as the custodian of the Greek way of life and of the Greek worship. About 240 BC it had won a great victory against the savage invading Galatae or Gauls. In memory of that victory a great altar to Zeus was built in front of the Temple of Athene which stood eight hundred feet up on Pergamos's conical hill. The altar was forty-foot high and stood on a projecting ledge of rock. It looked exactly like a great throne on the hillside. All day it smoked with the smoke of sacrifices offered to Zeus. Around its base was carved one of the greatest achievements in the world of sculpture, the frieze that showed the Battle of the Giants, in which the gods of Greece were victorious over the giants of the barbarians. It has been suggested that this great altar was Satan's seat. But it is unlikely that a Christian writer would call that altar Satan's seat, for even by this time the old Greek gods were anachronisms and it would have been a waste of the powder and shot of Christian invective to attack them.


Pergamos was particularly connected with the worship of Asclepios, so much so that Asclepios was known as "the Pergamene god." When Galen was mentioning favorite oaths, he said that people commonly swore by Artemis of Ephesus, or Apollo of Delphi, or Asclepios of Pergamos. Asclepios was the god of healing and his temples were the nearest approach to hospitals in the ancient world. From all over the world people flocked to Pergamos for relief for their sicknesses. R. H. Charles has called Pergamos "the Lourdes of the ancient world." The task of healing was partly the work of the priests; partly the works of doctors (Galen, second only to Hippocrates in the medical history of the ancient world, was born in Pergamos) and partly the work of Asclepios himself.


Was there anything in that worship to move the Christians to call the Temple of Asclepios Satan's seat? There may have been two things.


First, the most common and most famous title for Asclepios was Asclepios Sötör, Asclepios the Savior. It might well be that the Christians felt a shudder of horror that the name Savior should be given to anyone other than Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.


Second, the emblem of Asclepios was the serpent, which still appears on the cap badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Many of the coins of Pergamos have Asclepios's serpent as part of their design. It might well be that Jew or Christian might regard a religion that took the serpent as its emblem as a Satanic cult. Considering that the Serpent has been the "enemy" of man since Genesis chapter three this explanation seems likely. It must be pointed out, that Christians would regard the place where men went to be healed--and often were--with pity rather than with indignation.


While, the worship of Asclepios surely would have given adequate ground for calling Pergamos Satan's seat. However, there may have been an additional explanation of this phrase. Pergamos was the administrative center of Asia. That meant that it was the center of Caesar worship for the province.


It was organized with a provincial center and an administration like that of a presbytery or diocese. The point here is that Pergamos was the center of that worship for the province of Asia. Undoubtedly that is another reason why Pergamos was Satan's seat; it was the place where men were required on pain of death to take the name of Lord and give it to Caesar instead of to Christ; and to a Christian there could be nothing more Satanic than that.


Notice that the message to the church is given on the appeal that the one giving it has the two-edged sword (which is defined in Hebrews 4, Ephesians 6 and Revelation 1 as the "word of God.") But why would the angel tell John to describe the Risen Christ by writing, "These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges?"


A possible explanation follows. Roman governors were divided into two classes--those that had the right of the sword, and those who had not. Those who had the right of the sword had the power of life and death; on their word a man could be executed on the spot. Humanly speaking the proconsul, who had his headquarters at Pergamos, had the right of the sword, and at any moment he might use it against any Christian. Here Revelation bids the Christian not to forget that the last word is still with the Risen Christ, who has the "heavenly right to the sword" - a sharp two-edged sword! The power of Rome might be satanically powerful; the power of the Risen Lord is greater yet.


2:14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.


The main thing that is against this church is the fact that some its members hold the "doctrine of Balaam." The "doctrine of Balaam" is found in Numbers 22,23,24, and 25.


To be very brief, the "doctrine of Balaam" came about from the fact that Balaam could not curse the children of Israel. God would not let him curse them, and threatened to kill Balaam if he tried to curse them. So Balaam found a way to put the children of Israel in a situation where God Himself would kill them. He taught Balak, the King of Moab, this method; he had the Moabites inter-marry with the Jews, and then God killed them Himself. This is "the doctrine of Balaam," found in Numbers 25:1-8.


Notice in this religious worship of Balaam - this is a religious doctrine, not a political movement - three things are outstanding:

1. He taught the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:14).

2. He taught the children of Israel to commit fornication (Revelation 2:14).

3. The clergy is over the laity (Revelation 2:15).


Notice in Balaam's worship, taught to Balak, things are sacrificed to idols, and immorality is part of the worship service. This Babylonian mystical religion incorporates immorality as true worship of God. This is arrived at by teaching:

1. God is love, and love is God.

2. God is life, and life is God.

3. Since man is a creator and creates physical life, man is his own God, and thus the worship of life is the highest worship, and reverence for life is the highest act of worship. Therefore, man's physical act of creation is the highest act of worship!


This Pergamos church has allowed itself to be infiltrated with members who are wedded to the world, and allows fornication and idols as part of the worship!


To be a Christian in Pergamos was to face what Cromwell would have called "an engagement very difficult."


We have already seen what a concentration of pagan religion had its center in Pergamos. There was the worship of Athene and Zeus, with its magnificent altar dominating the city; there was the worship of Asclepios, bringing sick people from far and near; and above all there were the demands of Caesar worship, hanging for ever like a poised sword above the heads of the Christians.


So the Risen Christ says to the Christians of Pergamos: "I know where you dwellest." He recognizes that the Christians of Pergamos have their permanent residence, so far as this world is concerned, in Pergamos; and Pergamos is the place where Satan's rule is strongest.


It is very important to note that the principle of the Christian life is not escape, but conquest. We may feel it would be very much easier to be a Christian in some other place and in some other circumstances but the duty of the Christian is to witness for Christ where life has set him.


William Barclay: "We once heard of a girl who was converted in an evangelistic campaign. A reporter on a secular newspaper, her first step after her conversion was to get a new job on a small Christian newspaper where she was constantly in the society of professing Christians. It was strange that the first thing that her conversion did was to make her run away. The more difficult it is to be a Christian in any set of circumstances the greater the obligation to remain within these circumstances. If in the early days Christians had run away every time they were confronted with a difficult engagement, there would have been no chance of a world for Christ."


The Christians at Pergamos proved that it was possible to be a Christian under extremely trying circumstances. Even when martyrdom was in the air they did not flinch. Of Antipas we know nothing; there is a late legend in Tertullian that he met his death by being slowly roasted to death within a brazen bull. The Risen Christ calls Antipas my faithful martyr. In the early church to be a martyr and to be a witness was one and the same thing. Witness meant so often martyrdom.


Here is a rebuke to us. So many are prepared to demonstrate their Christianity in Christian circles but are equally prepared to play it down in circles where Christianity is met with opposition.


We must note another thing. The Risen Christ calls Antipas my faithful martyr and so gives him nothing less than his own title. In Revelation 1:5 and 3:14 Christ himself is called the faithful martyr; to those who are true to him he gives nothing less than his own name.

2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.


In spite of the fidelity of the Church at Pergamos there is error. There are those who hold the teaching of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. We have already discussed these people in connection with Ephesus and we meet them again when we come to study the letter of Thyatira. They sought to persuade Christians that there was nothing wrong with a prudent conformity to the world's standards. The man who is not prepared to be different need not start on the Christian way at all.


We must be clear what this difference means, for there is a paradox in it. It is Paul's summons to the Corinthians that they should be different from the world. "Come out from among them" (2 Corinthians 6:17). This difference from the world does not involve separation from it nor hatred for it. Paul says in writing to the very same Church: "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). It was Paul's claim that he could get alongside all men; but--and here is the point--his getting alongside them was that he might save some. It was not a question of bringing Christianity down to their level; it was a question of bringing them up. The fault of the Nicolaitans (see Lecture Notes on Ephesus for details on the Nicolaitans) was that they were following a policy of compromise solely to save themselves from trouble.

2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.



It is the word of the Risen Christ that he will make war with them. We must note that he did not say: "I will go to war with you"; he said: "I will go to war with them." His wrath was not directed against the whole Church but against those who were seducing her; for those who were led astray, he had nothing but pity.


It is the threat of the Risen Christ that he will make war against them with the sword of his mouth. The Christ of the sword is a startling idea.


Thinking of past conquerors and comparing them with Jesus Christ, the poet wrote:

Then all these vanished from the scene,

Like flickering shadows on a glass;

And conquering down the centuries came

the swordless Christ upon an ass.


That was then, but now is now what John is seeing. What then is the sword of Christ? The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Paul speaks of "the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). The sword of Christ is the word of Christ.


In the word of Christ there is conviction of sin; in it a man is confronted with the truth and thereby with his own failure to obey it. In the word of Christ there is invitation to God; it convicts a man of sin and then invites him back to the love of God. In the word of Christ there is assurance of salvation; it convicts a man of sin, it leads him to the Cross, and it assures him that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). The conquest of Christ is his power to win men to the love of God.


2:17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.


In this letter the Risen Christ promises two things to the man who overcomes; the first is a share of the hidden manna to eat. Here is a Jewish concept that has two aspects.


  1. When the children of Israel had no food in the desert God gave them manna to eat (Exodus 16:11-15). When the need of the manna passed, the memory did not. A pot of the manna was put into the ark and laid up before God in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and in the Temple (Exodus 16:33,34; Hebrews 9:4). Early in the sixth century BC the Temple which Solomon had built was destroyed; and the rabbis had a legend that, when that happened, Jeremiah hid away the pot of manna in a cleft in Mount Sinai and that, when the Messiah came, he would return and the pot of manna would be discovered again. To a Jew "to eat of the hidden manna" meant to enjoy the blessings of the Messianic age. To a Christian it meant to enter into the blessedness of the new world that would emerge when the Kingdom came.

  3. There may be a wider and more general meaning. Of the manna it is said: "This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat" (Exodus 16:15). The manna is called "grain of heaven" (Psalm 78:24); and it is said to be the "bread of the angels," (Psalm 78:25). Here the manna may mean heavenly food. In that case John would be saying: "In this world you cannot share with the heathen in their feasts because you cannot sit down to meat which is part of a sacrifice that has been offered to an idol. You may think that you are being called upon to give up much but the day will come when you will feast in heaven upon heavenly food." If that is so, the Risen Christ is saying that a man must abstain from the seductions of earth if he wishes to enjoy the blessings of heaven.


There is one possible further interpretation of this. Some have suggested that the hidden manna is the bread of God given to the Christian at the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. John tells us that when the Jews said to him that their fathers had eaten manna in the wilderness, so receiving bread and Jesus said "I am the bread of life" (John 6:31-35). If the hidden manna and the bread of life are the same, the hidden manna is not only the bread of the sacrament but stands for nothing less than Christ, the bread of life; and this is a promise that to him who is faithful he will give himself.


The final promise of Christ to the faithful in Pergamos is that he will give them the white stone with the new name on it. The verse is fairly obscure. Spiritually, we can say to a man that when he is saved that he is acquitted that he is found "not guilty." Therefore, according to the ancient custom, he is given a white stone instead of a black stone. We can say that the stone is Jesus Christ, that we "are in Christ," and that we have a "new name" in Christ. This is spiritual application, but it doesn't solve all the problems.


It's like Sam Jones said, "If I understood everything there was in the Bible, I'd know somebody wrote it that didn't have anymore sense than I have."


So this is a passage of where there are almost endless interpretations. In the ancient world a white stone might stand for many things.


  1. There was a Rabbinical legend that precious stones fell from heaven along with the manna. The white stone would then simply stand for the precious gifts of God to his people.

  3. In the ancient world colored stones were used as counters for working out calculations. This would mean that the Christian is counted among the number of the faithful.

  5. In the ancient law courts white and black stones were used for registering the verdict of juries, black for condemnation, white for acquittal. This would mean that the Christian is acquitted in the sight of God because of the work of Jesus Christ.

  7. In the ancient world objects called tesserae were much used. A tessera was a little tablet made of wood or metal or stone; it had writing on it; and, generally speaking, the possession of a tessera conferred some kind of privilege upon a man. Three of these tesserae add something to the picture.


  1. In Rome the great houses had their clients, dependents who every morning received from their patron food and money for the day. They were often given a tessera by which they identified themselves as having the right to the free gifts. This would mean that the Christian has the right to the free gifts for life that Christ can give.

  3. To win a victory at the games was one of the greatest honors the ancient world could give. The master of the games gave outstanding victors, a tessera which in the days to come conferred upon them the right of free entry to all public spectacles. This would mean that the Christian is the victorious athlete of Christ who is a sharer in the glory of his Lord.

  5. In Rome a great gladiator was the admired hero of all. Often a gladiator had to fight on until he was killed in combat. But if he had had an especially illustrious career, when he grew old, he was allowed to retire in honor. Such men were given a tessera with the letters SP on it. SP stands for the Latin word spectatus, which means a man whose valor has been proved beyond a doubt. This would mean that the Christian is the gladiator of Christ and that, when he has proved his valor in the battle of life, he is allowed to enter into the rest which Christ gives with honor.


  1. In the ancient world a specially happy day was called a whiteday. Plutarch tells that when Pericles was besieging Samos he knew that the siege would be long: he did not wish his army to grow weary; so he divided it into eight parts; every day the eight companies drew lots; one was a white bean; and the company which drew the white bean was exempt from duty for the day and could enjoy itself as it wished. So it was that a happy day came to be called a white day (Plutarch: Life of Pericles 64).

  3. Pliny in one of his letters tells a friend that that day he had had the joy of hearing in the law courts two magnificent young pleaders in whose hands the future of Roman oratory was safe. He says, that experience made that day one marked candidissimo calculo, with the whitest of stones (Pliny: Letters 6:11).

  5. It was said that the Thracians and the Scythians kept in their homes an urn into which for every happy day they threw a white stone and for every unhappy day a black stone; at the end of their lives the stones were counted. As the white or the black preponderated, a man was said to have had a wretched or a happy life.


Along this line there is another and most likely interpretation. One of the commonest of all customs in the ancient world was to carry an amulet or charm. It might be made of a precious metal or a precious stone but often it was nothing more than a pebble. On the pebble there was a sacred name; to know a god's name was to have a certain power over him, to be able to summon him to one's aid in time of difficulty and to have mastery over the demons. Such an amulet was thought to be doubly effective, if no one other than the owner knew the name that was inscribed upon it. Most likely what John is saying is: "Your heathen friends--and you did the same in your heathen days--carry amulets with superstitious inscriptions on them and they think they will keep them safe. You need nothing like that; you are safe in life and in death because you know the name of the only true God."


It is just possible that we ought to look for the meaning of the new name and the white stone in another direction altogether.


The words white and new are characteristic of the Revelation. R. H. Charles has said that in the Revelation "white is the color and livery of heaven." The word used does not describe a dull, fiat whiteness, but one that glistens like snow in the winter sun. So in the Revelation we find white garments (3:5); white robes (7:9); white linen (19:8,14); and the great white throne of God himself (20:11). White, then, is heaven's color.


It has been suggested that the white stone is the man himself; that the Risen Christ is promising his faithful ones a new self, cleansed of all earthly stains and glistening with the purity of heaven.


As to the new name, one of the features of the Old Testament is the giving to a man of a new name to mark a new status. So Abram becomes Abraham when the great promise is made that he will be the father of many nations and when he, as it were, acquires a new status in the plan of God for men (Genesis 17:5). So after the wrestling at Peniel, Jacob becomes Israel, which means the prince of God, because he had prevailed with God (Genesis 32:28). Isaiah hears the promise of God to the nation of Israel: "The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give" (Isaiah 62:2).


This custom of giving a new name to mark a new status was known in the heathen world as well. The name of the first of the Roman Emperors was Octavius; but when he became Emperor he was given the name Augustus to mark his new status.


A curious superstitious parallel to this comes from peasant life in Palestine. When a person was very ill and in danger of death, he was often given the name of someone who had lived a long and saintly life, as if this turned him into a new person over whom the illness might lose its power.


On this basis of interpretation, Christ promises a new status to those who are faithful to him.


Spiritually, this is attractive idea, it suggests that the white stone means that Jesus Christ gives to the man who is true to him a new self. And that the new name means the new status of glory into which the man who has been true to Christ will enter when this life ends and when the next begins.


Doctrinally, Revelation 2:17b - "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." - may well have application to men during the Tribulation.


Christian today, right now, through the power and love of Jesus Christ YOU and I are "overcomers" ( note the PAST tense of these verses) - I John2:13, 14 - I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.; 1 John4:4 - Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.



































See this link for further details:ONTHESTRETCHFORGOD.doc



  1. Think of a time you did something just to fit in. What were the results?

  3. How did the church in Pergamos prove their faith in Christ?

  5. What fault did Christ find with the church in Pergamos? If Christ was writing to Grace Fellowship UMC, what faults might He find?

  7. What temptations might the church members have had to face living in Pergamos, a city of idol worship?

  9. What temptations do our church members have to face living in the Houston area? In our country?

  11. Some people in the church of Pergamos ate food offered to idols. How as this a compromise?"

  13. If the culture of Pergamos existed today, would you be singled out for martyrdom by the quality of your witness?

  15. How do you strike a balance between being enough a part of your community to evangelize and keeping yourself separate from sin?

  17. What temptations do you deal with regularly that might cause you to compromise your faith?

  19. In what ways can you have a relationship with someone of a different faith without compromising your own faith and morals?

  21. In what ways have churches in history compromised for the world's acceptance? In what ways has the United Methodist Church compromised? See article, "On the Stretch for God."

  23. What stumbling blocks can Satan place in our church?

  25. Are you an overcomer?

  27. Do you wear an amulet? Why?

  29. How can you help someone have a new awareness of Christ and His power?




Is there something our home group can pray with you about?